NEW SCUBA DIVER GUIDE: Why does my wet suit give me a rash?

SCUBA DIVERS in shark's cove, north shore oahu

“Every time I scuba dive, I end up with chaffing on my body. What do I do to stop this from happening?”

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Hello Diver!

Thank you for asking this question! Don’t feel alone in this problem – lots of divers experience this. Getting a wetsuit rash or light burn, while unpleasant, is not uncommon. This happened to one of our very own staff, Jessica! We have referred to her to provide an answer to your question.

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Hey there!

This is Jess, and I have dealt with this before! The first multiple dives I went on, I got a wetsuit rash all over my body. Some were under my arms, or on my chest where my BCD straps sit, but the worst ones happened on the back of my knees. I ignored the problem, thinking my skin would toughen up and I could get through it, but it continued to get worse.

Eventually, these wetsuit rashes hurt so badly that I took a week off from diving for the wounds to close and avoid infection. It was annoying, and so painful. Don’t ignore rashes and chaffing! This is not supposed to happen, and can be avoided. Below, I have outlined a few of the best ways to handle this irritation. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution, so you may need to combine some or all of these options for your best personal diving experience.

Avoid chaffing option one: if you have a wetsuit rash, deal with it.

Give your rashes time to heal – don’t risk infection by getting in the water with open wounds. As possible, apply antiseptic ointment when the rash is dry. Cover them with bandages, including waterproof ones if you must go back in the water, until they are fully healed. The most important task in order to be a good diver is to take care of your body.

Avoid chaffing option two: rash guards.

As I mentioned earlier, you are not alone in this struggle. There are many products specifically designed for the irritation you have. You may see this go by multiple names, such as rash guard, rash vest, or rashie. These life-saver products come in many varieties and styles, making them useful in many different ways.

Rash guards are designed to stay right on your skin, in between you are your wet suit, to prevent chaffing. Bonus – they also provide an extra layer of insulation to keep you warm under water!

You can find rash guards at any dive, surf, or triathlon shop. They are available online too, by your favorite dive brands like Billabong, Athleta, and REI. My personal favorite would have to be Xcel.

Screen shot of Xcel online shop for rash guards and wet suit gear to prevent chaffing and rashes when scuba diving.

Some of the selection of Xcel’s online shop for rash guards to prevent chaffing

Xcel Wet Suits are high quality and come in beautiful designs. This brand also features products by Ocean Ramsey, Hawaii’s own shark conservationist who donates proceeds to shark conservation efforts!

Avoid chaffing option three: get a new wet suit.

Note: this may not be necessary, but it was my solution!

If you are getting rashes in the sensitive spots like I was, it is likely because your wetsuit does not fit properly. I discovered that my arms and legs are “short,” but I was wearing a wetsuit designed for average-length extremities. Therefore, the extra material was bunching up in my armpits and behind my knees, causing a lot of rubbing and irritation.

Get a wetsuit that fits you properly. Having well-fitting gear makes ALL the difference. If you are nervous about making such an investment (I don’t blame you, it can be expensive!) then rent out some gear first. Try diving in a different sized wetsuit and see how you feel before purchasing. You will not regret it.

Different wetsuit companies may fit differently. Don’t be afraid to keep trying on until you find the right match for your body.

Likewise, different wetsuit companies use different materials. Do some research into the brands you are trying on. Your skin may react poorly to a certain company’s material. I had to find a brand that used a soft material on the inside so that it wouldn’t keep irritating my skin.

Do not be discouraged by wetsuit rashes and chaffing

So, Diver, do not be discouraged by your wetsuit rash, chafe, or burns. It will heal, and there are many ways to avoid this happening again. Diving should always be comfortable and pleasant! Take care of yourself by getting the right material to make this the case.

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